Hillary Clinton’s Ideas On How To Fight ISIS Are As Incoherent And Flawed As Everyone Else’s
Hillary Clinton's recently announced policies toward the ISIS fight are as incoherent and misguided as President Obama's and those of her Republican opponents.
Late last week, in a speech that was somewhat overshadowed by the fast-breaking news related to the November 13th attacks in Paris and related events, Hillary Clinton laid out her strategy for fighting ISIS in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York:
Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Thursday for accelerating the American-led operation to defeat the Islamic State, going well beyond what President Obama has proposed by urging a no-fly zone with coalition forces to protect Syrians, more airstrikes and an expanded deployment of special operations troops to assist local ground forces.
“Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS, but to defeat and destroy ISIS,” Mrs. Clinton said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group and distancing herself from Mr. Obama’s much-derided contention, a day before the Nov. 13 attack in Paris, that the group had been geographically “contained.”
Mrs. Clinton was cautious not to criticize the president directly, saying her plan amounted to “an intensification and acceleration” of his strategy. But it was the urgency with which she spoke of the threat from the Islamic State and the need to respond to it muscularly that most distinguished her approach from that of the president under whom she served for four years as secretary of state.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Mrs. Clinton contrasted her outlook with those of the Republican presidential contenders as “a choice between fear and resolve.”
She gave some fodder to Republicans who have criticized the president for not being aggressive enough in combating the Islamic State, but she also sharply rebuked those Republicans as intolerant for calling on the United States to stop accepting Syrian refugees.
“We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations,” she said.
At the same time, she declared that the aftermath of the attack in Paris was “no time to be scoring political points.”
After days of speaking broadly about a response to the attack, Mrs. Clinton used the address on Thursday to display the breadth and detail of her foreign-policy knowledge. But in demonstrating her readiness to be commander-in-chief, Mrs. Clinton also must avoid inflaming Democratic primary voters who overwhelmingly approve of Mr. Obama and who are still reeling from the George W. Bush era of intervention.
For the most part, Mrs. Clinton called for building on what the White House is already doing — but at a faster pace. The Pentagon has said, for example, that it will bolster the use of special forces if the initial effort to train and equip Kurdish fighters and improve the targeting of airstrikes is successful; Mrs. Clinton appeared ready to do so now.
By implication, she appeared somewhat critical of the Obama administration for moving too slowly on aiding moderate rebels and getting special forces on the ground in Syria — without being highly specific about the number she would deploy if she were in the Oval Office.
“It is time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria,” she said.
She noted that the 50 special operations soldiers Mr. Obama authorized to be sent to Syria had not arrived yet, and said they should be deployed “immediately” and that the United States should be “prepared to deploy more, as more Syrians get into the fight.”
Mrs. Clinton said that “to be successful, airstrikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS.” But, mindful that her 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq largely contributed to her loss in the 2008 Democratic primary, she was quick to say these should be local Sunni troops, and “we cannot substitute for them.”
“Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East,” she said.
Similarly, she called for more air power, but only in cooperation with Persian Gulf allies. And she acknowledged in a question-and-answer session that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had halted their air attacks on the Islamic State to focus instead in Yemen.
Expanding on her previous call for a no-fly zone, Mrs. Clinton said it should be limited to northern Syria, where Turkey has proposed a buffer zone to protect civilians, and enforced by many countries. That, she said, “will confront a lot of our partners in the region and beyond about what they are going to do.”
She took a particularly hard line against Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations who she said had been complicit in the rise of the Islamic State. “Once and for all, the Saudis, the Qataris and others need to stop their citizens from directly funding extremist organizations,” Mrs. Clinton said.
The core of Mrs. Clinton’s argument for a faster, more aggressive military operation was her contention that it would reinforce Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic effort to negotiate a cease-fire, and ultimately a political solution, in Syria. Administration officials said it closely resembled the arguments Mr. Kerry has made to Mr. Obama — but Mr. Kerry has not yet persuaded the president, who remains hesitant about the risk of being sucked into a ground war.
The fact that Clinton would depart, even slightly, from Obama Administration strategy when it comes to ISIS and Syria is not really news, of course. Going as far back as the release of her book last year, Clinton has made clear on several occasions that she often disagreed with the polices that President Obama was following in this area and she has seemed to make that point more often as the news out of Iraq and Syria has gotten worse. The most prominent example, of course, was that portion of her book where she emphasizes that she advised President Obama to arm the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels long before he ultimately ended up taking up the arming and training program that has been subsequently abandoned because it proved to be largely unsuccessful and the “moderate” rebels have proven to be untrustworthy. She has also been publicly speaking out in favor of a no-fly zone in certain areas of Syria for some time now, and at least implied that this was an idea that she was in favor of while still serving in the Obama Administration when the only people speaking out in favor of the idea were John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Now, with the Paris attacks bringing the issue of the ISIS fight to the forefront and polling showing that the public is simultaneously concerned about ISIS and the threat of terrorism and lacking confidence in the President’s policies, it’s only natural that Clinton would seek to differentiate herself from the Obama Administration. The fact that she has effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination by all indications makes doing so much easier, especially since neither of her remaining Democratic opponents is seen by the public as very credible on foreign policy issues.
As I’ve said in the past, President Obama’s policy with regard to ISIS isn’t much of a policy at all. From the time that the United States started engaging the group militarily during the summer of 2014, the Obama Administration has largely engaged in increased escalation of American involvement without any seeming logic to the decisions that were being made. Options that have been ruled out, such as putting ground troops in Syria, have ended up becoming policy and red lines have ended up being not so red after all. To the extent there is a clear policy, it is self-contradictory and incoherent in that it seeks to both “degrade and destroy” ISIS, to use the President’s own frequently used words, and to seek to depose the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad even though it seems clear that doing so would only lead to the kind of chaos that ISIS thrives in. With the Russians now added to the equation, it’s not at all clear what the President has in mind and, ever since the Paris attack, events on the ground in Syria are being driven largely by the French and the Russians, who are launching air strikes independently and seemingly without any real coordination with Washington.
The fact that the President’s policies are flawed, however, doesn’t mean that an alternative is better, and that’s certainly the case with Clinton’s plan.
Scott McConnell at The American Conservative notes that many of the ideas that Clinton advocates would actually end up doing more harm to the enemies of ISIS than to ISIS itself, which seems to me to be as contradictory as the current Obama Administration policies, and that the entire framework of her plan as she has laid it out indicates she has not learned the lessons of the Iraq War, which she of course supported until it became politically disadvantageous to do so. McConnell’s colleague Daniel Larison, meanwhile, calls Clinton’s plan ‘reckless and flawed’:
Clinton’s plan suffers from many of the same flaws as Bush’s. Both of them talk about getting additional contributions and changes in behavior from allies and clients, but neither of them can explain how the U.S. will persuade any of them to cooperate. For instance, Clinton says that “we need to get Turkey to stop bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria who are battling ISIS, and become a full partner in our coalition efforts against ISIS.” Maybe we need that, but that doesn’t mean that Turkey is going to stop prioritizing its hostility to Kurdish groups. Clinton seems to think that because we “need” another government to change its behavior that its behavior can be made to change. The larger problem with Turkish involvement in the coalition is that Ankara has been obsessed with toppling Assad, which is one reason why they have been so dilatory and negligent when it comes to opposing ISIS.
As Larison notes, Clinton also repeated her previous calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, an idea as foolish now as it was before the terrible attacks in Paris on November 13th. On some level, of course, none of this should be a surprise. Clinton has always generally been seen as more hawkish on foreign policy than President Obama and, indeed, that was rather apparent during the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Back then, though, Clinton’s hawkishness and, especially, her initial support for the Iraq War worked against her with a Democratic electorate, and a nation, that was tired of the Iraq War.
This time around, though, that hawkishness is likely to help her The fact that Clinton largely has the nomination in the bag means that whatever criticism she gets on this issue from her opponents is unlikely to have any impact in the short-term. This is especially true given the fact that neither Bernie Sanders nor Martin O’Malley can be said to be seen as voices of credibility on foreign policy. More importantly, though, the fact that public concern about terrorism and doubts about Obama Administration policies that are seen as inadequate creates a wide opening for her, and for Republican candidates for President, to garner public attention by proposing something more aggressive. Indeed, at the moment, polling shows that Clinton is seen as the most trusted of all the Presidential candidates in either party when it comes to foreign policy issues. With numbers like that, it would seem likely that Clinton can only help herself politically by taking a more aggressive tone and implicitly criticizing the Administration.
Notwithstanding the political implications of her plans, though, Clinton’s ideas regarding the ISIS situation and the broader situation in the Middle East aren’t much better than those of the Obama Administration or of the Republican candidates for President.
France is in bed with the Saudis and Israel; Russia with Assad and Iran. Aside from dropping bombs of ISIS they are on opposite sides of a civil war. America, meanwhile, seems to be on the side of getting rid of Assad. Does Hillary Clinton even know that the Russians are not going to be keen on this? I wonder. Outside of eliminating evil once and for all, how does she imagine this ending?
Can’t wait for her to enforce a no-fly zone against the Turks when they bomb our Kurdish allies.
If only she would say “Radical Islamist”…that would solve everything according to Republicans.
You almost typed the truth…no one has an answer. There is no answer.
Earlier this year Beligian officials foiled a terrorist plot. They had been watching this crew for weeks. This last attack no one knew about. That’s the way this is going to be. It’s about diligent police work and intelligence gathering. Special Ops. Some events are going to go unstopped.
Think war on crime, war on drugs, war on poverty, war on terror.
Clinton does have an important point…which I didn’t see in our post…more Arabic speaking operatives with real expertise in the Middle East…we do not have good intelligence on ISIS.
On the other hand the no-fly zone is just plain stupid.
This is awesome…
I’ll agree that I her ideas are no more sound than Obama’s or the relatively small number of (somewhat) rational candidates on the GOP side.
However I quibble with your title. ‘As Incoherent And Flawed As Everyone Else’s’?
Really? Even Trump and Carson?
Even Michael Reynolds?
Finally, the Democrats are heading the calls for our own unique blustering and bad ideas. Hopefully we can crank it up to 11 and drown out the other guys’ bad ideas and blustering. Elections are on the horizon, after all.
At least with HRC I have the smidgen of hope that if she’s shown proof that tactic X isn’t working, she’ll stop. There’s no one on the Republican side that I can say they’ll do anything aside from doubling down.
Draining the swamp in this case is to keep young men from becoming radicalized. I’d also look around for another shiny object to keep them occupied.
Few Americans care about foreign policy, and even fewer know much about it. Saying “we really hate bad guys, because that’s what Americans do!” in a convincing fashion should be enough to get her through the election — the specifics don’t really matter.
Americans like to feel like badasses, even though our track record of waging asymmetrical wars has pretty much sucked since 1783. Not sure why they bother to teach history in the schools when we never seem to learn anything from it.
She has really improved her ISIS strategy.
Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Defeat ISIS: Step One: Defeat ISIS
This is after all the point person for an administration that allowed open air terrorist training camps to fester in plain sight in Afghanistan for years and years, before finally lobbing over some token Tomahawks that hit empty tents. That all was despite Mogadishu, WTC ’93, Khobar, etc. Also, who knows exactly what Sandy Berger shoved in his socks and down his pants when he raided those archives, in the most underreported and unpunished major scandal in history. Obviously it was something Team Clinton felt it had to bury, literally.
Relying on Hillary to defeat ISIS would be like relying on Obama to defeat ISIS. No chance in f’n hell.
In any event, the plan to defeat ISIS is not rocket science, although it would offend the brie and brick-a-brac, cocktail party, dunce academia, media, trust fund baby and other reality coma sets. In a brutal irony, in light of their staggering leftism-infused decline over the past several decades, the Brits set up that framework over a 100 years ago.
Lord Kitchener defeated the Boers — far tougher of a guerrilla army than ISIS — simply by taking off the gloves. He waged total war against them, and won easily and relatively quickly. He slaughtered them in the battlefields. Set up concentration camps for their women and children. Burned their food supplies. Killed their livestock. Brutalized them unmercifully, until complete victory was achieved.
The U.S. learned those lessons and then defeated Nazi Germany by “Dresden’ing” Nazi Germany. The U.S. defeated Imperial Japan by first firebombing and then nuking Imperial Japan.
Raqqa should be leveled for two generations by carpet bombing. Ground troops should be sent in to re-occupy Mosul. All ISIS fighters and terrorists who are captured should be tortured for intel. Their families should be deported to remote islands and left to fend for themselves. The dopey left is all worried about the “militarization of police forces.” Police forces should further be militarized. No knock searches. Warrantless seizures. Profiling. Then even more severe profiling. Tighten up borders. Tighten up immigration. Indefinite detentions. Etc.
Put down the cabernet and take the gloves off. You’d be surprised at how successful the fight would be, in the total absence of leftism as policy.
Western countries have been keeping young Muslim men from being radicalized. Look at France. They have 4 million plus Muslim citizens. Of these maybe 5000 or so have gone to Syria. This is a really small number. And why shouldn’t it be? ISIS is f—ing awful. They have nothing to offer. Most young people of whatever creed would rather be sitting at a cafe in Paris and getting tipsy rather than shooting it up.
I’m impressed that you managed to post a comment on a website while knowing nothing about how electronic media, the internet and social media work. Irony, etc.
A pundit who admits he has no idea what to do keeps on criticizing other people’s strategies as flawed and incoherent…
Maybe the correct thing to do here, Doug, is just to not post on Syria until you do have some idea of what to do. Frankly, you just sound silly here.
“Everybody is doing it wrong… But I have no idea what right is!”
After a while, that just seems farcical. Meanwhile, the latest US airstrike destroyed 238 ISIS oil trucks. That will make a dent in ISIS’s ability to earn revenue and supply it’s army.
Something to keep in mind when you vote for Trump in the primary, eh?
@Pch101: Lefrak has to be a Poe. The combination of a love of mindless brutality, a desire to commit our forces to near-genocidal massacres, total historical ignorance, and a willing embrace of fascism is just too “perfect” to be real.
Fixed it for you
I was just assuming that some folks are inclined to confuse Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto with reality.
@Modulo Myself: I was in Japan when the whole Aum Shinrikyo thing went down (and yes, they gassed one of the train lines I regularly used. Luckily I was in the US on a visit at that point.) What everyone found amazing was how so many of the Aum Shinrikyo believers were relatively upper-middle level people–a lot of them were young civil servants at the Science and Technology Agency and other government agencies. They had reached what was supposedly the smooth elevator ride within the Japanese government bureaucracy and it wasn’t satisfactory. So they went looking for some other “meaning in life” and found it with a flake pseudo-guru who decided he was going to recreate Asimov’s Foundation trilogy here on Earth.
There will always be people who want to plunge into a great ineffable cause, convincing themselve that they are Important and On the Pinnacle of History. It’s just too bad that such certainty usually involves a lot of dead bodies, and usually that of others.
@Bill Lefrak: And Lord Kitchener created the very first concentration camps.
Ever heard the phase: “what good does it for a man to gain a kingdom and lose his soul”?
If the only way we can “defeat the enemy” is by becoming as ghastly and mindless and murderous as they are, what have we really gained?
Somewhat unrelated, but Anonymous has come up with a unique and amusing approach to fighting ISIS:
Bill, I believe there is a missing e in LeFrak……I believe we spent $2 trillion, killed hundreds of thousands of Eye-raqis, lost thousands of our own, yet to you blowhard dipschitz wingnuts, we just didn’t nuke the whole damn country.
Thank you Buck Turgidson.
So…you want to level Belgium?
Even if this is true, it’s still Advantage Hillary, simply because she’s less likely to be surrounded by lunatics and less likely to do something stupid just to make a break with the Obama Administration.
Most of it is already extremely flat, so our work is more than half-way done!
@Rafer Janders: When everyone was running around in a tizzy about Y2K in the US and how it was going to cause mass destruction and running for the hills to escape wild dogs, one of my friends was acting as a computer consultant for a gig in Belgium. Pointed out that none of les Belges were panicking at all, and proposed that the idea of “running for the hills to escape the slavering feral dogs” didn’t work very well in a landscape where the highest elevation was 12 feet and the average dog was a toy fox terrier….
Spa Francorchamps; not flat. Put on your headphones, turn it up loud, and enjoy 4 minutes of physics.
I agree with whoever said Bill L is the newest incarnation of the Tsar. I’m glad to have the crazy bastard back.
Americans love to be scared out of their minds.
We’re in the midst of a national freak out.
(or is it, Lefrak out ?
The thought occurs to me that some number of Americans — perhaps 4 million or so coming of age each year, for 14 years, or about one quarter of the adult American population — has never known any form of American political life but this “national freak-out.” From their viewpoint, this is NORMAL behavior. Trump and Cruz and their ilk are TYPICAL politicians, and the war between a Republican-dominated Congress and a Democratic President is ORDINARY politics. Screaming about gun control and abortion and immigration is just the way American life is supposed to be.
The future promises such fun!
Unless you are willing to enter an asymmetrical war on the ground with ISIS(WITH DOZENS OF THOUSANDS of casualties) there is no way to fight with ISIS. No one is willing to do that.
We were burning witches in Salem long before there was a United States. The Alien and Sedition Acts were as brazen as anything that is being talked about now. We had Jim Crow, and the Red Scare, and Japanese-American internment, and whites-only immigration laws, and the wars on Native Americans, and far too many other abuses to list.
This country has always had vocal nut jobs trying to shape its policies. We manage to eventually address these things in time, but it’s akin to dictatorship whack-a-mole, with some group of zealots and their cynical Pied Pipers always on the attack. The difference today is that we now have social media, so it’s harder not to notice them.
@CB: I’m not sure; has he noted anyone “jumping the shark tank” yet? I know I haven’t seen it.
Both Clinton and Sanders need to draw clear distinctions between their strategies and policy toward the terrorists and the weak, unclear policies and actions of the President. They can ill afford to appear overly cautious. or vacillating. In view of the Paris attacks and the subsequent actions by France and Russia, they will need to be bold, creative, and proactive.
Hey, that’s a slander against the Malinois breed!
@mike shupp: The future promises such fun!
@C. Clavin: Very good. I see we have a shared interest.
@Tyrell: I’ll take Obama’s “weak and unclear blah blah” any day over Bush’s cowboy strut that let +3500 people die in one attack..
@Bill Lefrak: Bill, Kitchener did not win “easily.” Really, except for the very short term, he did not win at all. Far from it. I refer you to Thomas Packenham’s “The Boer War.” http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/830238.The_Boer_Wark6y or if you like films, “Breaker Morant.” It was 3 years of bloody awful guerrilla war and in the end was a peace treaty which soon led to one Boer General, Jan Smuts, becoming Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa and, later, to the sons of Boer guerrillas taking the Government in the election of 1948, which ushered in the Apartheid era. So much for being able to dictate to people where you don’t live how to live.
The incoherence of our policy is in a sense the incoherence of the tribal and religious fragmentation of Fertile Crescent (Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq). Our Shia allies in Iraq are allied with our Shia enemies in Iran and Syria, who are fighting our Sunni enemies in Western Iraq and Syria, who are in turned allied with our Sunni allies in Saudi Arabi, Gulf States, and Turkey. With Turkey, our ally, is engaged in a war with our Kurdish allies who are fighting our ISIS enemies, with whom our Turkish ally is at best indifferent if not secretly supporting and enabling. And into this cauldron we should insert 10,000, or 50,000, or 250,000 American Ground troops until when? The Second Coming? It appears that both Fundamental Christians and Muslims supporting DAESH/ISIL anticipate that very event as a prelude to the Second Coming. http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/12/6/9859696/obama-isis-ground-war and http://www.vox.com/2015/8/21/9183419/isis-iraq-apocalypse
Obama, who has inherited responsibility for America’s imperial interests and client relationships in the Middle East, has found cutting this Gordian knot very difficult. A coherent policy, of sustaining Assad along with Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, perhaps with a de facto alliance with the Kurds, could probably crush ISIS pretty quickly, but would blow up our relationships with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and for that matter Israel, by restoring a strong, pro-Iran state in Syria. But going all in with the Turks and Saudis, by say establishing a “no-fly zone” and destroying the Syrian Air Force, means that we will might get an ISIS statelet in Damascus guerrilla war with Kurdish, Shia, Christian, Alawite, and Druze tribes fighting for survival against a gang we would regard as abomination and a refugee crisis of even greater proportions, triggering a U.S. (NATO?) ground intervention and indefinite occupation. (As for how the occupations will turn out, see the current Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq.).